This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo

July 2004


14 July 1404:   Treaty between Owain Glyn Dwr and France pledging alliance against England.

By the summer of 1404, Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion against the English was nearing the end of its fourth year. The events of the previous summer had left the war stalemated, but Owain still held most of Wales. After failing to link up with his English ally “Hotspur” Percy in time to prevent Hotspur’s defeat at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403, Owain retreated back into Wales and spent the rest of the year consolidating his position in the south, attacking the key city of Carmarthen and besieging Kidwelly Castle with the help of a contingent of Breton allies.

With his treasury nearly empty, the English king Henry could attempt no serious military adventure for the year 1404, giving Owain the breathing space with which to turn his rebellion into the beginnings of a solid Welsh government. When the starving English garrison of Harlech Castle surrendered early in 1404, Owain adopted the west coast fortress as his capitol.

In the early spring he held a formal ceremony solemnly proclaiming himself “Prince of Wales” in the presence of ambassadors from France, Spain, and Scotland. Although his official seals - a “great” seal and a “privy” seal - depicted him in the traditional trappings of royalty, his choice of the title of Prince, rather than King, left the door open to a possible compromise whereby he would be allowed to rule Wales in some sort of subordinate status to the king in London.

Owain’s next step was to convene in April a Parliament of Wales in the nearby town of Machynlleth, drawing upon legal precedents set by the great Welsh lawgiver-king Hywel Dda (Howell the Good) centuries before. With a functioning Welsh government up and running, in May Owain dispatched his brother-in-law John Hamner and his chancellor Gruffydd Yonge to Paris to conclude a formal alliance with France.

Their arrival was well-timed. With the French King Charles VI slipping in and out of madness (at times he was convinced that his body was made of glass), the decision-making at the French court passed back and forth between two factions. With the Hundred Years War still unresolved, one faction championed peace with England while the other trumpeted renewed war. The war faction under the Duke of Orleans had gained full control when the Welsh ambassadors arrived, and they were eager to adopt the Welsh as allies.

An alliance was swiftly concluded, with the French pledging to support Owain with military aid. With good feelings going all around between the Welsh and the French, King Charles, in a rare moment of lucidity, proclaimed his affinity for the Welsh by announcing that henceforth his favorite royal dish would be toasted cheese.

For the moment, though, the French lacked the military means with which to back up their belligerence. By the end of the summer an invasion fleet had been hastily cobbled together, but after cruising up and down the southern English coast it returned to France without attempting a landing.

Owain, though, wasn’t going to wait for either the French or the English to make the next move. That summer his forces swept through the border lands between England and Wales, and even carried the war into England itself with raids into Hereford and Shropshire.

Owain had accomplished a lot in the year 1404, but his respite from English assault could not last much longer. The following year would be the one in which the French alliance could prove decisive.

For more stories of Owain Glyn Dwr, click the links below:

Owain Glyn Dwr Sexcentenary 1400-2000
Conway Castle taken
Owain’s Victory at Bryn Glas
The Battle of Shrewsbury

For more information on Wales, see the Wales Nation Page.

The stories featured in This Month in Celtic History are drawn from the over 1000 anniversaries of people and events from the histories of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann in the 2005 Celtic Calendar, now available from the Celtic League American Branch.

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